I stared at the ATM in disbelief as it hummed. I recognised the familiar, dreaded noise.

“No, no, no, no!” I cried. Then with panicked gestures, I punched the ‘Cancel’ button.

Nothing happened.

The ATM had retracted my card – without dispensing what was the only cash left in my account.

I quickly assessed my options: Go to the counter, fill out the withdrawal form and queue up to get my money – and still exit the bank card-less, or demand that the bank retrieve my card and return it to me immediately. I chose the latter. I had a million things to do, and at that time, two young children to rush home to after what was supposed to be a dash to the ATM and then to a nearby supermarket.

I entered the bank. It was a busy afternoon, and eyeing the long queues, I knew I didn’t have the patience nor the time to wait to be addressed.

So I proceeded to the section reserved for account cardholders and approached a bank staff. Since she was counting money, I waited for her to finish. Then I explained my predicament: The ATM had ‘swallowed’ my card without any warning and I needed it back urgently. The lady looked at me briefly, and without an iota of empathy, told me that someone would attend to me shortly.

I nodded and waited as she proceeded to attend to other customers. But five minutes later, after noticing that she had made no efforts to inform another staff to handle my request, my patience ran out.

“Excuse me”, I began in a loud, controlled tone, and then I mouthed: “I’d like to see the manager”.

The lady, who had been ignoring me until that point, raised her head sharply. I held her gaze coolly. She then muttered something under her breath and appeared distracted. Then from my peripheral vision, a shadowy figure appeared by my right side. The figure approached me and I could see it was a well-dressed man. Motioning me to a corner, he introduced himself as the bank manager and offered to help. I suggested that we proceed to his office for discussions, which he obliged.

In the bank manager’s office, I settled into the comfy chair he offered. But before we could discuss the issue at hand, I declared that I deserved an apology from the discourteous teller. She was immediately summoned and instructed to apologise – which she did satisfactorily. After thanking the bank manager for obliging my request, he sorted out the paperwork himself and resolved the issue.

I left the bank with my ATM card and the cash I’d wanted to withdraw. I couldn’t help but notice that I wouldn’t have received swift action on my request if I hadn’t used a no-nonsense tone, and if I hadn’t confidently requested for what I wanted (which was reasonable).

While that incident happened a few years ago, it highlighted two major problems with customer service delivery in Nigeria:

a) Quality service is the exception and not the norm

b) Results often depended on how clearly and authoritatively you communicate

Since that scenario, I’ve experienced other situations where customers were ignored or treated as annoyances to be tolerated. And in those circumstances, I only received some decent action after I used my speaking and nonverbal skills to demand a change.

What companies and organisations should realise is that excellent customer service must be continually improved. And staff who are in the frontlines – who deal directly with the public, must be trained in interpersonal communication skills and emotional intelligence. They should also be empowered to offer creative solutions.

So Mr/MS CEO – to differentiate your company from others with exceptional customer services, note three non-negotiable points you must consider.

1) Realise that customers are the reason your company continues to exist

This sounds trite but it’s true. They must ALL matter – from the student to the business leader. Don’t allow your staff to become selective in the courtesy they accord to customers.

In this digital age, complaints that are often not made in person are transferred online. Social media has therefore become a powerful phenomenon that can make or mar your reputation. The fear of your corporate image being tarnished on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram by disillusioned customers or clients, is the beginning of all wisdom.  Cases in point: Read the negative accounts that were collated about Cowrywise, the platform that promises to simplify your savings and investments plans, and the complaints about Bolt, the car hire company.

Schedule regular training programmes on interpersonal skills for your staff, especially the frontline employees, so that they know how to communicate effectively – notably during peak hours and other stressful times. Think of Monday and Friday afternoons at 3 p.m., or the workdays after public holidays, and you’d understand the heightened stress levels of both your staff and customers.

One disgruntled customer who leaves dissatisfied is one too many.

2) Train your staff on interpersonal skills and emotional intelligence

I mentioned this earlier. It’s mind-boggling the way I’ve seen customers treated: from fast food outlets to banks and shops. Staff are often rude, unhelpful or unperturbed by long queues. Customers are sometimes ignored while the staff attend to personal calls or exchange light banter in full view of everyone.

When the staff finally attend to customers during busy periods, they tend to be impatient and display defensive body language behaviours.

Therefore, you should ensure that your staff are trained in interpersonal communication and assessed periodically. They should be educated on the importance of using ‘open’ or ‘warm’ body language cues (open gestures, eye contact, smiling, etc.), and should understand why customers will perceive such actions as being treated with respect. Your customer services staff should also be trained on when and how to use volume to restore order, and different tones to de-escalate situations and reassure people.

A good dose of emotional intelligence is also critical in service delivery. By knowing how to self-regulate and manage their emotions, and those of customers, your staff will be perceived as being professional and trustworthy in their duties.

Once customers and clients feel valued, they remain loyal and are more forgiving of unfavourable outcomes.

But bad reports spread like wildfire. So ignore these critical skills and watch your customer services staff repel existing customers and ward off potential clients.

3) Realise that customers require one thing

They want their pain points addressed.

That’s it.

They’re not interested in focussing on the reasons they can’t get their money or told why they can’t access data on their mobiles. Similarly, they don’t want to be briefed on why their tickets can’t be changed. So spare your customers the myriad explanations your staff provide without offering remedies.

Despite the valid reasons given, customers and clients want some solution to their problems.

Therefore, while your (hopefully) newly trained staff communicate clearly and effectively in speech (during one-on-one interactions), or via emails (increasingly common for official complaints during this coronavirus pandemic), they must go the extra mile. Empower your employees to implement creative solutions to problems, and ensure that they give feedback that is timely and factual. Then reward them for their efforts.

Customers want their issues solved.



Although poor customer service delivery is the norm in the private sector in Nigeria (and exponentially worse in government agencies and parastatals), you can challenge the status quo.

Rewrite your company’s customer services story by upgrading your staff’s communication skills. Next, empower them to do their best work. And finally, reward them for their results.

With management dedication to an improved communicative culture, and a commitment to periodic communication training for your staff, one development will emerge:

You’d win your organisation loyal customers and happy clients – who would praise you online, elevate your reputation, and boost your business.

And you’d smile to the bank.

How I can help you:

Contact me when you need interpersonal communication and public speaking training sessions for your staff to boost your customer services.

Some companies who have trusted me to deliver custom communication programmes include Nigeria Stock Exchange, Nestlé, the Society of Petroleum Engineers (Lagos Chapter), and Ischus. Read their testimonials and be assured that my programmes translate to results.

Over to you:

Do you need help in boosting your communication skills? Sign up here for my free quarterly newsletters and learn best practices. When you sign up, you’ll receive my evergreen resource on giving persuasive presentations. Ensure you download that document and refer to it before any high-stakes presentation or speech.

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N.B: First image is courtesy of Peggy and Marco Lachmann-Anke via Pixabay. Second and third images are courtesy of Gerd Altmann via Pixabay. Third image is courtesy of Gino Crescoli via Pixabay. Last image is courtesy of Pete Linforth via Pixabay.

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